30 November 2009

no buyer

It's not really autumn anymore. There's too much bitterness in the wind, and my fingers go numb even when I wear my gloves. I noticed autumn. I noticed one day a sea of brittle leaves, blown and huddled at the foot of a mediaeval wall. They hadn't been there a few days before. I noticed the skeletal trees etched against the ashen cloak of low-looming cloud. Now I notice that the shadows never really shorten; they just disappear, joining the quickly drawn darkness. Smells of wood fire drift by and Starbucks have their red cups at the ready.

I made some wine and I sold some wine. I quit my job. I didn't write much. I read a little. I drank some whisky and some red wine and some beer and watched a month's worth of rain fall in a day. Crossroads appeared and I couldn't find the devil to sell my soul to.

And so I'm standing there, working out which road to take.

18 September 2009

wine-making again...

Early nights to prepare for earlier mornings. We get to the winery before first light and leave, if we're lucky, just after the sun sets. The grapes are healthy. So, it would appear, are the wine-makers.

I will write more on this when I have the time.

In the meantime I leave you with this: today I saw softcore porn needlepoint. It left me giggling and full of questions. It was hanging in a restaurant. The restaurant also left me giggling and full of questions.

25 August 2009

fringe diary iv

Edinburgh's quiet before 8 on a Tuesday. It's sunny but chilly and there's still a bit of morning grey filtering the world. I'm wearing yesterday's t-shirt and yesterday's boxers, which have served me as pyjamas. The rattier of my Sox hats sits on my head. My bleary eyes try to focus through my glasses. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Albert King jam through my headphones. My flip-flops snap along the cobblestones and make my walk something like a zombie's. My hands warm themselves in the belly pocket of my hoodie. From time to time my eyes drift down to my feet, to the frayed edges of my jeans and I'm struck by the oddness of toes.

I didn't sleep much last night.

I'm sure I look the part. The part of the hungover - though I'm not - and the sleep deprived - guilty as charged. I look like I've not been home yet, though that's an illusion.

The streets are still. I pass one of the local pubs and blink at the size of the padlock on the front door. They'll be open again soon - festival hours and all that.

The Apple store isn't open but the supermarket is. I cross the street without danger. There are no cars. I expect tumbleweed, but there's none of that either. The odd shopper looks far more awake than I. They seem to be shopping as though it is normal to do so at this hour of the morning. I wander the aisles and my mind wanders to last night, our best performance yet. I think about dinner and fine wines.

I blink and see a giant packet of toilet roll. 16 for the price of 12. I grab it and head to the check out, pausing briefly by the magazine rack to find something else to by, oddly self-conscious of my singularity of purpose. All the magazines are shite. And so I head to the check out bearing only my bogroll. The exit confuses me and I try in vain to open a locked door, until the bemused security guard points me in the right direction.

Flip-flops snap again on the cobbles and I return to the sleeping flat, no more awake than when I left. Mission accomplished.

16 August 2009

fringe diary iii

We walk to the venue in costume. It draws the odd look, but mostly it's indifferent. Everyone looks odd at the Fringe.

The venue stands clad in scaffolding. A sea of smokers mill about outside, beneath the steel lattice, inhaling quickly and chatting away. They're all performers or crew. There never seems to be any audience when we arrive. We head straight to the main bar and grab a cup or two of water. Some of the cast are already there, adjusting costumes, reading reviews. We high five and hug and smile. We're usually happy to see each other. I'm not sure how long that will last - will it keep for all 25 nights we perform? Will we start to sicken of the sight of each other? We joke about it, claiming it will come eventually; noting that 25 nights in a row is a long time and no matter how much we get along, tempers will fray and patience will stretch. Idiosyncrasies will turn into annoyances will turn into severe transgressions. All of that could happen, but it seems unlikely now. Our shows are going well. In spite of the rabbit warren, we find our space and enjoy it. And so in these last few minutes before the show we psyche each other up and I throw more than a few fighter-pilot thumbs up at the rest of the crew.

The show before us involves zombies, or some other form of the undead. Their cast emerges from the back stage door in varying stages of decomposition. They skip down the stairs towards the bar and we ask how their show went and they wish us broken legs for ours. I don't think they'll ever see ours. I've no intention of seeing theirs. It would ruin it for me, this simple ritual of well-wishing and impatience: courtesy at high speed.

Backstage and we have less than ten minutes to set up. We form a train, each grabbing a piece of set (it's composed mostly of antique luggage) and carrying it to the stage. Everyone finds their own we corner of the wing to call their own, to place their props and any extra costume they might need. Someone reads a book, someone else mutters their lines under their breath. Phones are checked and rechecked. Impatience builds energy. Every voice is a whisper and the smallest footstep sounds too loud. There's an extractor fan that wheezes out into the street, whose own racket often rises and ruptures the silence.

I fiddle with my phone and mutter my lines. I stretch out my irksome hip and will myself more energy. I check my costume and breathe deep.

The work lights turn off and the music starts. We hear the sound of the audience filing in and finding their seats. It's a mutter of an entrance, muffled by the curtains that separate us.

The hush settles and the stage lights hum. It's time.

11 August 2009

fringe diary ii

The flat is a rabbit warren. Nestled in a basement, beneath one of the multitude of Edinburgh University buildings along Buccleuch Place, there is little privacy. People share beds and mugs for coffee. I’m not sure how many bedrooms there are and I’ve lost count of the doors. The main hall is strewn with costumes and flyers, posters and props. And, oddly, a pile of A4 black and white portraits of myself. There is a staircase, painted black, that leads up to a solid wall.

The kitchen is miniscule and in a constant clutter. Empty beer bottles stand next to cups of old tea bags along with crumbs, wrappers, take away coffee cups and the odd dirty plate. No one lingers in the kitchen but does their business and escapes as fast as they can. Some of the girls cook breakfast, quite often eggs. The communal loaf of bread was eaten some time ago and has yet to be replaced. We drink each other's beer and pilfer each other's snacks.

Inevitably, the thespians spill out into the garden, our saving grace. We smoke or we don’t, we rehearse and recite, we banter and gossip, we stress and rant, we sip a beer or a whisky, we grab a bite or we simply lie there on the grass, exhausted and staring skywards.

Our call is at 530. We collate from all corners of Edinburgh. Those in other shows – most of us – report on the day’s performance. Some of us grab food and eat it quickly before changing into costume. The girls don their corsets, the boys their cravats. The show is, ostensibly, steam punk and the costumes reflect the style. Except for mine. I play a ghost. Ghosts are not steam punk. Well, they’re certainly less so.

Tea mugs drained, quick nips to the loo, costumes and props double-checked, and then out onto the cobbled streets towards the venue. It's a quick march.

Curtain's 725.

07 August 2009

fringe diary i

August 1996 was my first Edinburgh Fringe. I was with some friends doing a couple of Christopher Durang one-act plays. I didn't really know what was going on, but I seem to recall having a blast. I lived on tins of Castlemaine XXXX and bagels with lots of Phillie cream cheese. I fell catastrophically into debt and discovered that I'd been thrown out of university. I smoked too much. Our flat had four or five people and only two beds; I slept on the couch in the sitting room. It was the summer The Spice Girls became famous with Wannabe and that England lost to Germany in the European Cup. Independence Day came out in the cinema and we all cheered to see the White House destroyed by aliens. We drank at The Pleasance and The Pear Tree and saw more comedy than we could afford.

I was 20.

The next festival for me was 2000. It was improv comedy that time. A two bedroom flat for ten of us, further out of town but a nice neck of the woods regardless. X-Men came out that summer and once again I was broke, bouncing cheques and living on boxed wine. I didn't see many shows that time out. I still smoked. We sat around the dining room table and chatted endlessly into the wee hours, squeezing the shiny bag of wine came until the last drop splashed into our cheap, tarnished paris goblets. David Gray’s White Ladder seemed to be on repeat. Sometimes we played Goldeneye on the N64, with the curtains drawn and the light catching the smoke from time-to-time. We shared the space without ever seeming to invade each other’s space. Hoppy discovered Piemaker, which we renamed Piemaster as they master all pies. Hoppy slept half in a cupboard, with his feet sticking out into the main hall. Our venue was in the basement of a church and we made our bemused audience laugh more often than not.

The following year and back again for more improv. A soulless student residence for home and a hotel lounge bar for a venue. I’d just graduated and joined the wine trade. I was still broke. Some friends ran one of the more popular venue bars and our local served good whisky. I drank a lot of schnapps by accident and lot of whisky on purpose. The show got smaller crowds than the year before and, for whatever reason, the vibe seemed a bit strained. There were love triangles and other polygons. The dynamic altered and the passage of time perhaps wore us down. The previous summer could not be repeated, in spite of our efforts, and it all seemed a bit of an anticlimax. It was still fun, but not as much. Maybe we went looking for something we weren’t going to find.

It’s been 8 years since I’ve performed in the Fringe. I’m still broke, but less so. I don’t smoke. I’ve got a degree and a job and a pet and a flat. I can drive. I’m in better shape and I don’t drink as much. I’m ostensibly grown up, in a city full of performers who refuse to do so. We’re doing Hamlet and improv comedy. Not at the same time. Last night, my first night in town, we went to The Pleasance and The Pear Tree and Piemaster. The city’s busy, in perpetual motion. I bought a bottle of malt and we put a dent in it. I bore the cast with my old man banter, my observations of change and my tales of Fringes past. In the past I would have been drunk. Instead I slept well and woke in the morning without pain, not missing the miasma of cigarettes smoked the night before.

Today I ran around Arthur’s Seat and ate bagels in Elephants & Bagels. Their coffee’s excellent and their wifi connection is free. Tonight’s the dress rehearsal for Hamlet. The cast has changed yet again and our time runs too long. Calamity befalls all productions, right up until the lights come up, and ours is no different. Right now we long for the routine, for the comfort and thrill of being in our stride. Until then it’s stress and unease, a sense of impending doom and the nervous banter that precedes unanswered questions.

04 August 2009

sea glass and skimmers

I put them in my laptop bag, in my camera bag, in my big jacket pocket. They always come with me. I have several notebooks, but only two are for travel. I try to keep up, but I can't. Important adventures are left unwritten, unchronicled. I write here and there, catching up long after the journey is finished and the comfort of my own bed is rediscovered.

I remember the hiss of the waves at night in Collioure, the detonation of colours that burst through India's ubiquitous haze, the damp quiet in the cellars of Champagne. Every step comes back as soon as I think back to it.

But I have trouble writing it.

It's like those images, memories, visions and experiences are like sea glass, or skimmers. They need time in the head to be worn, smoothed, softened and perfected in their shape. Pounded by the tumultuous waves of thought, worry and reflection until flawless, until every single syllable lies with the accidental perfection that comes with the musing of time.

Only after all that can they be written.

Either that, or I'm just too fucking lazy sometimes...

22 July 2009

waiting in the rain

We got to Glasgow early. Not as early as some but definitely early. It was sunny when we left Fife, then it poured with rain, then it settled into an ominous grey pall so low you could touch it. We ate before we left and milled in the sunshine on South Street. There may have been a hangover or two.

There was a hangover or two.

I don't know why we waited to set off. It wasn't a lack of anticipation. It wasn't laziness. It wasn't second thoughts. We waited around the car, outside the bakers on South Street. Some of us smoked a few last cigarettes. Some of us drank coffee. Some of us ate a lunch that doubled as breakfast. I ate and tried to rehydrate.

I was one of the hangovers.

There was banter. Morning after chat and insults; the almost-party the night before had a few classic lines and a few memorable moments. We ragged on Chris a bit and got into the car. The volume went up and the windows and the sunroof went down. The chat circled around the playlist for the gig and other things. Glasgow appeared and we felt lost even when we weren't. I was driving and desperate for directions. Jamie took over navigation and we found our way eventually.

We found our fortuitous parking space and disembarked, wandering toward Hampden Park, not for football but for Springsteen. We were giddy. We smiled a lot and every once in awhile we'd shake our heads in disbelief. We met with the others and eyed the merchandise at the t-shirt stand. The hoodies were too expensive.

It was an hour before the doors opened. Time for a pint. The rain had stopped, though we kept a constant watch on the skies. Some of us felt convinced the floods would come. I kept uttering optimistic appraisals whilst Sean prophesied the end of days and the cancelation of the gig. He drifts towards hyperbole on occasion.

So we drank Guinness and lager at the local's local, and saw the assorted crowd already decked out in their t-shirts. The average age had about 20 years on me. The bouncers seemed mild but not without menace. We debated the playlist again and finished our beers. The sky spat a bit and we wandered back towards the ground.

The queues were already pretty long. Some guys had brought a couch. Some other guys were selling cheap ponchos. There were fans wearing cowboy hats, mostly stupid chintzy ones. Mounted police seemed to be unnecessary, but they were there. It rained harder but we refused to buy ponchos. We would be wet. It wasn't cold. No one goes to gigs for the comfort value. We would be wet and happy.

The doors didn't open on time. Sean got antsy. Apparently the doors on the other side of the Park opened before ours. We bounced on our heals and kept peeking towards the front of the line. The doors wouldn't open. The queue grew behind us. Somebody sold American flags and more poncho salesmen appeared, along with touts and more rain.

Then, when we'd forgotten the doors, they opened, and we filed through the turnstiles and into the vastness of the stadium. Emerging to find the fenced inner circle in front of the stage still free. We raced down the steps, between the rows of plastic red seats. The rain was coming down hard, but we would be close the stage. As close as we could.

We got our spot, and our wristbands, and our hotdogs, and we waited in the rain, looking with scorn on those with the cheap ponchos, looking at our watches, looking at the stage only 60 feet in front of us. We twitpic'd it. We escaped for our last pee before the show started and on that stroll saw, guarded by 3 heavies, the tenor sax of the legendary Big Man, Clarence Clemons. One held an umbrella over it while the other two just guarded it. We stared in awe.

Our watches ticked slowly. We got wetter. Someone muttered that we should have bought ponchos. 730 came and went and we watched as the roadies climbed their rope ladders while the lighting rigs rose high above. The occasional guitar riff rang through the air and we held our breath, but it was just another sound check. A throne sat on the left for the ageing saxophonist. The odd sound check became torture. The promise of a gig that seemed never to come.

Then the rain stopped. I looked at the sky and saw a growing patch of blue. Then, bizarrely, an accordion sounded, playing 'O Flower of Scotland'. The E Street Band arrived. The Boss arrived.

And for more than three hours he owned the stage, the stadium and everyone in it.

And the rain never returned.

19 July 2009

cat chat

The kitten sits atop the back of my chair, resting on my jacket, a pair of jeans and a pair of shorts. And my back. He was on my lap before, but kept slipping off and grabbing my headphone wires to right himself. It was awkward. Not as much as when he dug his claws into my thighs to climb back up though. That smarted.

My first cat's name was Tucker. We called her mothertucker. She was feral. An abused kitten, my cousin adopted her and when my aunt told her they weren't keeping her, my folks and I took her. She was black and white and angry. As a kitten her only sense of play was to hide under the bed and attack your feet and ankles. She didn't soften with age. She wouldn't be held. She wouldn't be stroked. If she sat near you she would leave as soon as you noticed her. Sometimes she hissed just for the sake of it. My cousin found her in a bag on a street corner in New York. I can't imagine what she went through before she wound up in the bag.

She didn't hate us in particular. She just hated everyone and everything. She loved our summer house down at the beach because she just lived wild. Outside, all the time. Hunting, stalking, playing in the woods around the house. We'd not see her much. She seemed as surprised as us when she came back to visit the house. Until she saw her food bowl. She'd eat and run.

I was a cuddly kid and this upset me. I wanted to give Tucker hugs. She wanted none of it. I learned quick.

One night, in my room in Boston, I woke and she was at the bottom of my bed, curled up but not sleeping. She watched me and as soon as I moved she was off, away. Discovered. After that I woke up late a fair few times, feeling a tug at the bottom of my duvet and her weight and the rise and fall of her restful breathing. I never moved, though I wanted to. And so we used to stay, aware of each other, late into the night.

Tucker was a hunter too. She'd present her captured prey to my mother, laying the wee mouse in front of her in the wee hours and then gently pawing at her face to wake her. When she woke, mom would look down and smile, sleepily mutter 'good cat' and Tucker would disappear with her prey, vindicated and praised.

When we moved to London, Tucker didn't come with us. The 6 month quarantine for all pets was still in place and she would never have survived. So we gave her to my grandmother and that led her back down the fully feral path. The last I saw her she hissed at me before disappearing into the Virginia woods. My mother said she died less than a year later. I still think at some level I betrayed her by giving her to my Grandma. Maybe I should have just released her into the wild. Just taken her out to the woods one day and let her loose.

Of course, she never would've let me...

My kitten's asleep on one of my pillows. There's no hissing so far. The claws and teeth are sharp, but forgivable. The other night my nose was mistaken for a scratching post, but it was only 3 in the morning. Pedey loves his belly rubbed, and being held is growing on him. He plays with recklessness and curiosity and energy. I wake up and he's asleep on the pillow next to mine. He seems a happy cat.

But I still miss that heavy tug at my feet. The deep growling purr only uttered under the illusion of solitude. That visceral anger at all people, the reflexive hiss and vicious rage if anyone dared get too close.

I can't explain it, but I'll always miss it.

a lighter shade of blue

The light entering the flat possesses a dingy tint these days. Sheets of blue plastic have been fixed to the glass of the windows, like some form of UV protective cling film. It's for our own good apparently. Well, for the windows' good in any case. There's building work going on, cosmetic - not structural, repairing the heinously ugly cladding of the building with more resilient heinously ugly cladding. The blue plastic film is to protect the windows from the debris that these works produce in abundance.

I discovered the debris before the blue plastic appeared. I returned home from a long lunch shift to find my bedroom covered in a thin layer of dust that used to be the outer layer of my building. I swore and tidied to a degree. I checked my camera equipment and computer stuff and the like, making sure it wasn't damaged. I swore some more and drank a beer. My flatmate and I agreed they were bastards.

The next morning a note came through our letterbox explaining that through the course of the works we should keep all windows and balcony doors shut to prevent layers of debris falling on our flat. I swore more. I swore at 815 in the morning when the drills and the hammers and the hydraulics started.

I now swear at 815 every weekday morning when the drills and hammers and hydraulics start, particularly if I've worked dinner service the night before.

The next morning they fixed the blue plastic to our windows. It seemed a curiosity at first, the odd hue it cast throughout the flat. It was, and is, hard to work out whether it's sunny or cloudy in the morning. The colour itself has become oppressive, corpse-like and draining. It works in tandem with the airlessness that comes with the windows being shut in the midst of summer and forms a discomforting duvet. It's hard to get up in the mornings, in spite of the noise.

The torso of a builder sometimes hovers outside my window, hard hat bobbing, his luminous green vest just another shade of blue through the bizarre filter that screens the world. He appears and disappears through the small gap in my curtains and I refuse to move from my bed. A guilt settles that I refuse to give in to, the guilt of someone working when I'm not. I know when his tea breaks are - around ten - and that lunch lasts from noon til anytime up until two. I stay in bed anyway, and sleep is fitful.

The light is cold but the flat is stuffy. The air is stale until the weekend comes and the windows open. It's like living in stasis.

And so through the cold light, stale, stuffy air and orchestra of anvils, hammers, drills and hydraulics, summer stumbles along. I find any excuse to leave the flat early and get home late. Work fulfils that role, sometimes too well. My manuscript gathers debris now, as well as dust, sat in its own form of stasis.

I think it's time once again to take it out, shake off the detritus. To find a quiet day to read it again, in the blue light and air of discomfort. To see what lays past that, when the light's right again, and the air's fresh.

To really write again.

18 July 2009

kitten watching

The kitten nibbles on my pinkie a bit, my other fingers scratching his belly. He can't decide whether to purr or not. The nibbles turn to raspy, sandpaper licks and the odd extended claw pokes my palm. The kitten twists a bit and lets me scratch under chin. Then he purrs. He flips his tail lazily - or does his tail lazily flip itself? The claws disappear and he stretches legs and paws in all directions. Eyelids droop. The purr rumbles. Then his head jerks and he looks elsewhere. My pinkie is no longer of interest. Not to him, anyway. Like a ninja he flips from his back to his four paws and crouches into a stalking pose. His whiskers don't twitch. His mouth and nose hover low while his eyes look ahead. He's a tabby, and his stripes should blend him into his background, but they don't. They show stark against the cream upholstery. His camouflage is misplaced in this flat. Each paw makes a dent in the cushion as he steps forward. The kitten stops and his chin rests on the cushion as his hind legs rise high. His tail sticks up on end. In a flash he leaps on the dust bunny (left by his tail a few minutes earlier) and, having caught his prey, he pats it with paw and sits back, unsure of it. He cocks his head and sees something else of interest. Jumping from the couch to the floor he looks at towards his food bowl and then at the wires hanging behind the television and then at the wine cork on the floor and then back to the wires and then back to his food bowl and then he's running towards one, the cork, and jumping, standing on hind legs, paws outstretched and claws out and then back on all fours for not even a second before a leap with a 180º twist back towards his food bowl. The kitten runs past it, towards the spider web of surround sound wires and A/V cables. He caught a spider there once, and ate it. Ever since it's been his bête noir. Well, where he thinks that's where his bête noir lives, anyway. He charges through the cables and the standing lamp in the corner, back and forth, leaping over and squeezing under the beam that runs between to two legs of the coffee table that holds the TV. He tries to balance on it and fails. Then he tip-toes to a lone, dangling wire and sniffs it, pats it with the pad of his paw. His whiskers twitch and he's away, back towards the cork, bounding. He taps it with one paw and then the next, solo tennis, all volleys, enraptured by the movement he creates, following it and perpetuating it. I shift on the couch and he stops. Frantic, the kitten runs again towards the wires but then lurches right and steps two calm steps towards his food bowl.

He sniffs, whiskers twitch, he looks left and then right. And then he eats.

11 July 2009

stubble scratching

Luke doesn’t smoke, but he steals a lot of cigarettes. It’s a habit we used to share. I was more honest about it. I admitted I was a smoker but was usually too broke to buy my own. Luke’s a drunk smoker. After x number of beers (or bottles of wine, measures of whisky, etc. etc.) he starts chaining somebody else’s cigarettes. Usually they’re his brother’s. Marcus is younger and as such tends to put up little resistance to this mooching.

We sat in the pub opposite the British Library and drank away our hangovers, the three of us, and Luke looked in horror as Marcus started rolling a cigarette.

‘What the fuck’s that?’

‘A rollie.’

‘That’s no good – you’re going to have to roll two every time.’


My hangover was particularly pronounced at this point, and I contributed little. There wasn’t much to add, really, just the odd chuckle. I rubbed my eyes a lot, and scratched my stubble – those little physical tics that seem to accompany the morning after.

Luke looked smart in a bespoke pin-striped suit, Marcus shabby in a blazer better-suited to a down-on-luck pensioner cracking open a tin of special brew. I wore shorts, flip-flops and a wrinkled shirt. I stood out a bit.

‘There’s a beer garden in the British Library.’ Luke’s kernel of information grabbed our attention. The bartering for cigarettes ceased. My beer slowly did its work and my hangover subsided. I stopped rubbing my eyes, though I still scratched my stubble occasionally.

‘Really?’ – Marcus and I, in chorus.

Beer garden was a bit of a stretch. There’s a terrace adjoining the café, and the café sells beer. Still, we pondered, it was theoretically possibly to organise a piss-up in the British Library. This delighted us. We set about a rough plan for such an event.

We’d have to be there for research. We agreed that the beers should be some manner of self-reward – we should do an hour or so’s worth of work before getting hammered. Luke chuckled mischievously, Marcus wandered outside to smoke his roll-up and I went to the bar to get another round in.

Walking back from the bar I was disappointed to find the table of pretty girls next to us had decamped and disappeared into the thronging London streets. Talk moved away from research-inspired drinking binges and into the generalities of life. Marcus and I described the antics of the night before to Luke, explaining the source of our hangover. Marcus drank slower that I did. I poured more ice into his cider and watched the sudden fizz as the new cubes splashed down. He rolled another and we watched them call the cricket for rain, after Australia pulled ahead of England. Marcus and Luke are big cricket fans; my interest casual at best. I turned around to check out the table of ladies and cursed, forgetting they’d left. Marcus placed his rollie on the table and Luke looked down on it with barely concealed contempt.

I looked at my watch and took another sip of beer. Time for the next pub. The British Library?

Not this time.

As we left, Luke clapped Marcus on the shoulder.

‘You’re going to be rolling a lot of cigarettes tonight.’

large books and reflections.

I find long books awkward and a tad daunting. It's the physicality of it: those awkward first pages and the imbalance between those pages read and those remaining. My index finger saving my place on page 15 of 1079. The feel of those pages unread is the daunting thing, the thinness of those first few a perennial disappointment. It would be far more comfortable to jump in around 450. Until that first chunk is read the book feels like a prop, a weighted block of pages merely there to provide an illusion of intellectual superiority.

It's a peculiar insecurity. One easily solved by voracious reading. Like the gap left by a missing wisdom tooth, I will dwell on it until I forget to, then rediscover it again with the next unread tome.

I'm on a train north again; returning from a fleeting London visit to see my parents and catch up with some friends. I never have enough time in London. I always leave with a drop or two of regret, mulling those things I didn't do and those folk I didn't have time to see. The feeling lingers until after Newcastle, usually dispelled by the Northumbrian coastline and the calm that comes with crossing the border back into Scotland.

There's a young couple at my table on the train, restricting my nesting. My giant tome stays shut and I'm currently debating a nap. It's the flat part of the trip - there's not much to see outside. The sun's finally creeping out from the neutral overcast above. I'm struggling to stay awake, but I always worry I'll snore when there are people at my table.

Oh well.

22 June 2009

rusty hangover

My writing feels rusty. Like some manner of creative arthritis, my fingers need coaxing to tap and pound the keys. The gaps between the joints have atrophied a touch. I'm like a stop-motion skeleton clicking away. The words are there, I just need to remember them. And where they go. And, occasionally, why they go there.

It's kind of like a hangover. A really bad hangover. You know those sorts of hangovers - the sort where it takes you a minute or two to work out where you are, even if it's your own bed. You touch your face to make sure it's there. Then begins that slow assessment, working out where the pain is coming from, clenching you fingers, wiping the goo from your eyes. Maybe there's a trail of drool dried at the corner of your mouth. You smack your lips and wince at the taste of your mouth. There's a pint of water next to your bed, but steering it to your lips is a challenge. You look in the mirror and recognise the face, but can't place it. Even working the shower is too much for you. By the time you figure the taps out, opening the shampoo becomes impossible.

In the end you're clean and dressed but still feel as though you're having an out of body experience. Or that you've borrowed someone else's body. Someone else who treated that body they lent you very badly. You'd like to register a complaint, but through the haze the truth dawns, and the body's yours. And you did that to yourself.

And so my writing drought has wrought a writing hangover, not caused by an excess but by a dearth. Where my words don't look right, don't read right and don't feel right. They feel somewhat like someone else's, but they're mine.

And like a hangover, I did it to myself. There's no one else to blame.

21 June 2009

sunrise and salmon bagels...

I hadn't been drinking.

Not excessively, anyway.

I just didn't feel like sleeping. One DVD finished and I popped in another. It was one of those late nights: bed felt like more of an effort than staying up.

The last movie on was John Boorman's Excalibur. I loved that movie. Let down by its budget effects but still impressive: proper, filthy mediaeval production design but with the proper nod to the chivalric tones of Chrétien de Troyes' epic work. It's an energetic piece that mixed well with my insomnia.

I lived in the centre of St Andrews at the time, in a flat on the top floor with a view towards Sallies Chapel. It was an awkward place; the floors uneven, poorly insulated and the occasional sloping ceiling. Seagulls on adjacent roofs would sometimes make ungodly racket in the wee hours. There were a lot of stairs to climb to that odd wee flat. I liked it, don't get me wrong. Its quirkiness pleased me, as did the luminous pink couches.

The window in the sitting room overlooked Market Street. It was May 1st, and the sun was glorious at 5 in the morning. Through the open window I heard noise and the significance of the date settled into my sleep-deprived head. The first of May is the day when a couple of thousand students decide to go swimming at sunrise. As May Day celebrations go, it's quite a lot of fun. Far groovier than a Maypole.

I had no intention of going swimming, but I thought it might be a way to walk off the insomnia and laugh at drunk, sleep-deprived, shivering wet students. So I grabbed my Sox hat and bounded down the steep steps and wandered towards the beach.

Already the exodus had begun. Towel-clad, blue-lipped and dripping, they stepped tenderly. Some held near-empty bottles. Some squelched in their soaked shoes. Their rugby tops were damp. Makeup ran and normally perfect hair resembled a blind bird's nest.

I got to the beach and bumped into Lish, who said I should join her and her friends for an after party. I had nothing better to do. I was still a student, and the idea of starting a party at 6 in the morning appealed.

All we had was a case of Beck's and a doorstep. And the sound system of The World's Filthiest Land Rover. It was enough. We listened to cheesy tunes at full volume and opened beer after beer. We brought bedding out from the flat - why we weren't in the flat I'll never know - and engaged in morning banter. The swimmers warmed up and drank more beer. I think we laughed so hard we couldn't breathe. We took turns rocking out in The World's Filthiest Land Rover, bouncing along to the ridiculously cheesy music (Meatloaf was involved).

The beer ran out and we went in search of coffee.

The guy at the juice bar knew us all. He rolled his eyes and finished getting the shop ready for the day while we collapsed in a corner and drank our coffees. I had a quadruple espresso. We chatted about what to do next. Some wanted to do donuts at the end of West Sands, some wanted smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels. We split in different directions. I, as ever, followed the direction of food.

And there we sat, in the West Port at 11 in the morning, with espressos and smoked salmon and cream cheese bagels, drunk and happy, making a mess of things. One of us managed to get more cream cheese on their face than in their mouth. We laughed and paid and stumbled out into the bright late morning sun. I pulled hat low and gave Lish a hug. I needed home and bed.

I climbed the steep steps and noticed my flatmate had gone to the office for the day. I pulled my curtains shut and succumbed finally to my bed.

Some amazing friendships started that morning. Started with movies and insomnia and beer and coffee and bad music and almost entirely by accident.

And now one's gone, almost entirely by accident.

20 June 2009

the passing of vintages

I've not been here for awhile.

One day it was March and I was on a train and now it's almost the end of June and I don't know where it's all gone or how I can begin to catch up with myself. I'm not sure I can. I think of the little bits and pieces of my life passing by, unchronicled, and I wince. My notebooks are half-finished at the moment. Begun in heady enthusiasm, frantically scribbled they become forgotten too quickly.

There have been a lot of nights in the pub.
There have been some nights on stage.
The odd bonfire on the beach.
I've hosted wine tastings at 2 in the morning and one day I woke up with a corkscrew in my bed.
I explored cellars in Champagne and raised several glasses with dear friends.
I took a bow for Shakespeare two or three times.
I ran a half marathon and didn't die.
I've cooked a few cracking meals and cracked a bottle or two.
I smoked a cigar or two and a joint or two.
I've overslept and watched the sun rise.
One morning, in the wee hours, I talked to bunnies.
I've not baked bread.
I twisted my ankle walking home drunk one night.
I still haven't bought filing cabinets.
I got drunk and dragged my manuscript out from its purgatory under my desk and read passages from it, reminding myself it existed. I inflicted my prose on others and they didn't seem to mind too much.
I went swimming in the North Sea with 2000 inebriated students.
I helped 2 friends move.
I've said goodbye quite a few times, but said hello enough to balance it out.
I sat in the passenger seat of an Audi R8 and grinned like an idiot as it went very fast.
I sat in the driver's seat but was too frightened to hit the gas.
I've thought so much about writing and done so little about it.
I came up with another idea for a novel, but forgot it three minutes later.
I started only one other blog post in all that time.
I turned 33, rather quietly.
I looked at a new vintage of a wine I love, and realised that time isn't going to stop just because I'm not paying attention to it. I breathed deep and paused, holding the bottle and trying to remember every other year I tasted and loved. I rubbed my thumb on the '2007', wanting it to reveal a 2002 or a 2005, wanting some of that time back, not yearning for the past but for more of the future ahead of me.

Now the summer has settled and the Red Sox are in first place. My manuscript needs dusting, my blogs need entries and there will always be another vintage. Since I can't stop it I've got grab as much as I can before it passes me by.

25 March 2009

jostling tracks

The light falls sparsely on the borders, the clouds creating a patchwork upon the countryside. This trip is old hat, almost a commute. The jittery train dashes north from London to Scotland and the landmarks are comforting and familiar. Once we pass Berwick the tracks hug the sea most of the way to Edinburgh. I stare out over the horizon and down the crevices that dot the coast, watching the waves crash. I wonder at the houses built by the water between the train and the sea, envying the seclusion and beauty - the starkness that comes from living on the very edge.

The trip to London was short, business-like. The city, even the Underground, seemed quiet -even when crowded. The tube reminded me of commuting to school. Trying to stand against the shake of the train, refusing to hold on, testing balance in the way that you test anything you can when you're young. The utter embarrassment when, with a jolt, you lose your balance and knock into a disapproving fellow passenger, the laughter of your friends, the mumble of apologies. In my earphone cocoon I thumbed through the memories, their distance and clarity both a surprise.

I visited two pubs, one a local. Neither was The Dove, much to my surprise. There simply wasn't the time. A few quick texts to friends, confessing my presence and apologising for the fleeting nature of the visit. The beer tasted good, though. Earned and deserved after a long day feeling a fish out of water. The wine trade can be quite vast and daunting on occasion. Yesterday was just that sort of day.

We cross the bridge across the Forth and the waters are busy. Ships and tugs and launches all scattered across the blue expanse.

Back in Fife and inching towards home. The weather's better than London and the sun's bright.

There's something about time on the train. It's mine: no one else's.

23 March 2009

the moments along the way

The last week flew by.

I'm not even sure I can attempt a chronology of events.

There were birthday parties and beach parties and ill-health and whisky mishaps. I worked and rehearsed and worked and wrote and worked and baked bread. I failed to shake this relentless cold which, even now, drives a steal spike through my sinuses and takes an electric sander to my chest and throat. I lived entirely on bread, cheese, peanut butter and jam. And the odd unwanted petit four. And espressos.

I saw my flatmate once or twice, but never for more than five minutes.

I walked into a party full of folks dressed as Peter Pan, Lost Boys and the odd Wendy. Everyone was drunker than I was. This doesn't always happen.

The hostess and birthday girl - one of the Peter Pans - gave me an immense, heart-warming hug and offered me 'cake, vodka jelly or scary punch.'

There was a time, not too long ago, I would have said yes to all three. We danced a bit of a jig and had a laugh before I told her I'd rather grab a beer if she had one. I said it sheepishly, embarrassed at my own timidity in the face of cake, jelly and scary punch. Everyone was drunk. Drunk and young.

I grabbed a piece of couch and watched for a while, chatting to a friend about very little in particular. Girls, mostly. He left to go to the pub.

Later someone drunker landed on the couch next to me and ranted a bit about writing. His eyes lit up with inebriated inspiration and the words spilled out as his arms flailed with the intensity of his mission.

'Steam punk, man! It's all about fucking steam punk! We have to do it!'

While I have a vague notion of the current steam punk trend, I had no idea what he was talking about. He grabbed my shoulder.

'Dude. Seriously. You need to write a steam punk novel. Imagine it.'

He held my shoulder and stared at me and I could barely keep from laughing out loud. I took a sip of beer and hoped it wouldn't shoot out my nose.

He stared.

'Can't you imagine it?'


'Look, it's simple. There's a massive cannon set up in the castle and they shoot it at this invading ship, BANG! And then, 'cause it's steam punk, the cannonball has this massive charge of electricity and it, like, stops - right in the middle of the fucking ship, and all these sailors are staring at it going like, "what the fuck?!" and then ZAP - they're all fucking electrocuted. Because it's steam punk. You've got to write it.'

'Uh... why don't you write it?'

'No, man - we ALL have to write them. A whole bunch of steam punk novels. You, me, everybody! Then there'll be this cult movement. Everyone'll be talking about it. The St Andrews Steam Punk Movement. We're fucking doing it. You know we are.'

'Uh... ok?'

'I'm going to another party.'

He staggered out into the night, looking for the next party, muttering about steam punk cults.

One of those moments along the way, during the whirlwind, that sticks out and brings a smile.

16 March 2009

birds on the water, coffee on the boil

The cygnets have nearly lost all their grey. I saw the four of them fishing at the mouth of the Burn, where it spills next to West Sands and into the bay. Their parents were nowhere to be seen.

They'll be gone soon. I don't know where. Somewhere with a nice bit of water and a lack of predators hopefully.

My first espressos of the day. I started with tea and moved on to coffee. Usually it's the other way around. Usually I hammer the coffee down until I need something a touch more soothing. Today I've got it backwards. I will most likely move back to tea. The mixture of these espressos and Carmena Burana thundering through the flat is akin to plugging my fingers into a wall socket. I'm not sure I can type accurately as fast as their desire to move. It means I must occasionally break from typing and air-piano grandly along to the music. It means that my fingers get angry when my brain stops telling them what to type. They care not if it makes no sense, if it's gibberish and the mutterings of lunacy, they just want to keep typing, my ears want to hear the click of the keys, and my brain's not entirely sure what to give them. Adverbs help in this situation. Adding that -ly, weighing down sentences with needless enhancements keeps the fingers busy and lends a pleasing wordiness that seems good at the time but in the cold light of a caffeine comedown will need brutal and savage editing. Strunk & White's Elements of Style is firmly fixed to my writing conscience and must not be ignored.

The problem with the coffee is that it tastes so damned good. Espressos in particular. And I can make them in the comfort of my own home. It fuels the writing, not just the caffeine but the ritual - the short espresso cup next to the pint of water next to the mug of tea. Everything I need is there. I sip and type and flip pages and repeat. I write a sentence or a paragraph and take a sip and the texture and flavour reward every turn of phrase.

The door to the balcony's open and it's raining in the brilliant sunshine. One of the swans is fishing near the harbour lock. I can't tell if it's one of the cygnets or not. I hear the shouts of the lobstermen and watch as the swan drifts into the sparkle of reflected sunlight. I'm writing it all down, my fingers demand it. It's otherworldly, out my door and somewhere else entirely. And then it's gone, drifts out of view but drifting still in mind.

I think I'll make some more coffee and write some more.

I cannot think of anything I'd rather do right now.

09 March 2009

monday repose

The weekend falls back into a bit of a haze. There was a lot of drinking, a lot of whiskies ordered alongside a lot of beers. A lot of headaches suffered and snooze buttons hit. Saturday morning it took a few moments to realise the remains of pizza on the table were the remains of MY pizza.

I performed in front of hundreds of people Saturday night, still suffering from Friday. Then the pub beckoned and back I went. Friendly faces appeared and we opened a bottle or two of wine. A shitty band took the stage and seemed incapable of using their instruments with shrieks of feedback. The only sanctuary was beer and banter and then, when the noise became unbearable, an escape to Aikman's and more beers - this time with whisky chasers. Just like Friday. Someone stole my Red Sox hat. The barman called time.

I wandered home hatless in the cold, refusing to succumb to pizza a second night. I got home and found my stolen hat on my bed. I drank a beer I didn't need and snacked on cheese and salami.

Now Monday's here and the coffee tastes good. I baked bread and wrote and cooked some lunch. Whatever I needed out of my system seems gone for now and there's quite a lot to do. Fuzzy memories and fresh baked bread, the echoes of laughter and the bemusement of all that's passed are not a bad way to start the week.

05 March 2009

sinking fowl

Cormorants often look as though they're sinking. It seems like they're struggling to stay afloat, like they need to get the better of their buoyancy. I watch them from my window, their dark shapes barely bobbing along the top of the water. I expect them to disappear underneath the surface but they never do.

Time's sped up and March has arrived. The bitter cold today suggests that once again those heralding the start of Spring (myself included) have been a touch premature. Whether this cold is an anomaly or the beginning of another cold snap is beyond my meteorological capacity to predict. Even the Met Office seem noncommittal.

Life's been mostly quiet. Writing comes in starts and stops and while the clarity of my goals is pristine, my discipline still wants for patience.

A couple of nights ago an impromptu dinner party lit the flat up with wine, banter and goodwill. Nothing elaborate - penne bolognese with Ben & Jerry's and a supermarket chocolate tart for dessert. Chat ranged from bar friend etiquette, to pick-up lines, to the sorts of acrobatic feats on display in certain strip clubs. Lines that seemed etched in legend at the time now fade in memory, drowned out by the echoes tear-streamed laughter. That all-consuming outburst that you get lost in, laughing so hard you can't breathe. It seemed endless and then it ended, the guests head home and my flatmate and I sat sipping beers, watching The Boss raise hell at the Hammersmith Odeon in '75.

These unplanned blips punctuate my life at the moment; an unexpected dinner party, a trip to see my god-daughter, the odd evening of improv comedy (I'm performing again and loving it).

I need these things. It all blends together otherwise.

Without them I'd be staring out the window, wondering if the cormorants are sinking.

20 February 2009

wee update.

My camera's sitting on the kitchen table, useless on this mute, bleak day. The sun was out this morning only for its rising. It crept above the water and for a few moments it lit up the sea and the sand. The low-hanging pall obscured it soon afterward and has done so since.

I've been pondering ghosts and shadows and trying to work out the difference between motivation and purpose. Destiny and humanity play their part.

I've also been reading a lot about baseball.

17 February 2009


It's a grey day and the sea's calm. The soft surf laps the shore with a fizz; it sounds like a fresh-poured gin and tonic.

A few days ago my flatmate and I threw a baseball around in the afternoon sun. Walkers were out in force, along with their dogs or partners, sometimes both. We got the odd look - baseball is uncommon in Scotland. The banter was about baseball; chat regarding the Red Sox and Spring Training, the state of the team and the league. In the afternoon sun the summer seems close and spring even closer.

The next morning I woke up to a ghostly grey light from the window. I staggered, yawning, and saw the harbour veiled in white, a deluge of snowflakes whipping past my window. It was still early, most of the snow untouched. I snapped a bunch of pics on my wanderings to and from work. As enthralling as the weather was the reaction to it. Every spare patch of snow found people building snowmen, every hill and incline found sledgers with hastily purchased and sometimes makeshift, improvised vehicles. It was like rain in the dessert; grown men and women sticking out their tongues to catch the snowflakes, the whistle of the odd snowball flying by my ear.

And now it's a grey day with calm, whispering seas. There's no sign of the snow. The lonely mounds of former snowmen, the last reminders of winter's last(?) hurrah have all melted away, leaving carrot noses and branch arms looking out of place and odd on their patches of grass. Former limbs are now just debris.

I look back on the last few days, from the afternoon sun to the fleeting blizzard and now to the mild calm, and I find some memorable nuggets. I took my UK citizenship test yesterday, and passed. Failure frightened me more for the ignomony than anything else. I can't mention the questions I was asked due to some sort of confidentiality agreement. They don't really matter. I knew the vast majority of them. I checked aftwards and think - think, mind you - I only got one wrong.

There's a ways to go yet. Passing the test is the first step towards UK citizenship. I've been here for 20 years and it's taken me this long to start looking towards getting a passport. It's always been on my mind. I don't think you can live more than half your life somewhere and not be changed somewhat by it. I think that duality suits me. It's not that I'm more American than British, or the other way around. I'm not entirely either, really. Ideas of loyalty and patriotism frequently confound me, though moreso how misaligned the judgement of those qualities seem to be. Instead I'll stick to my ideals, and remain loyal to those. I think that makes me a more valuable citizen of either country, and soon to be both.

Conflict will always exist, no doubt. I'll bristle at the odd barb against the States, especially those steeped in ignorance. Complaints about peculiarly British traits will continue to irk. But I've made peace with these things before, quite successfully. I remain intensely curious about both countries, their startling similarities and their vast chasms of difference.

It's just a piece of paper, a passport, a small sheet of legitimacy. Recognition for the duality I accepted a long time ago. It means little or everything, depending on my mood.

It's just me, standing on a beach on a grey day in Scotland, throwing a baseball while the sea whispers and fizzes, smiling at the odd looks cast my way.

15 February 2009


Originally uploaded by rwhbray

Woke up the other morning and this is what I saw. There's quite a lot to write here, but thought I'd share this first. Expect a long, rambling entry very soon.

07 February 2009

univeral law and the disarray of a desk

I can't really clean my desk at the moment. The laws of the universe forbid it. Well, they make it very difficult. Matter can neither be created or destroyed, you see, whilst important paperwork can be created in vast, immeasurable quantities and yet... still cannot be destroyed. Temporarily lost? Yes. But only at the time, that singular moment, that it is needed most.

My desk sits in the corner of my room, to the left of the window. If it faced out the window I'd do nothing but stare. It's a hexagon. To the right lies a haphazard pile of manila envelopes filled with bank statements, car info, health documents, assorted 'important docs', receipts, demands, final demands and all manner of paper trail. More organised people would file these things. I move the envelopes behind the curtain and occasionally look frantically through them after a phone call from a withheld number.

The slide-out keyboard tray holds no keyboard. Submission chapters scrawled with red and black ink, redrafts and new additions to the final chapters of my novel, early-stage cover letters, more important documents and final demands and the first few sections of a Phd I'm editing sit there. They sit there because they are of immediate concern. If this were an office, they would be labeled 'urgent'.

There are no drawers in my desk, only shelves. One shelf carries several copies of submission chapters so poorly edited that I should just use them as scrap paper. I feel environmental guilt when I think about that shelf. It also holds various spare stationery items - envelopes and the like; Conqueror paper for important letters, printer paper for producing yet more poorly edited print-outs of submission chapters; it is the shelf of dead trees.

Dead laptops adorn the opposite shelf - three of them. Two iBooks and an old PowerBook, with a cylinder of blank CDs to keep them company. I really ought to eBay those sometime soon.

My printer lives on the bottom shelf, scattered spare ink cartridges strewn about and on top of it. I'm not printing much out at the moment, but I should be. Photos, writing, that sort of thing should be printed - pressed into reality from the scattered, fickle electrons on my MacBook.

Six corks lay in various places atop my desk, some from extraordinarily fine wines. I use most of them to prop my keyboard up, as its little feet broke some time ago and those are the kind of spares you never find anywhere. Some of the things here make more sense - my laptop speakers and laptop, my keyboard and mouse, mugs full of pens, staples, thumb tacks, paperclips, and a lollipop with a tequila worm in it. Four notebooks - two moleskin - and two sketchbooks. I've not sketched anything for years and I've only used two of the notebooks thus far. There's a photo of my nephews and assorted pens, a pair of Oakleys, an iPod and a few sets of headphones kicking about. I see another couple of important sheets of paper that I really ought to do something about as well. A quaich full of loose change sits in the corner, occasionally pilfered for the sake of a pint. Some novelty dice also linger amongst things, serving little purpose but to add to the sense of disarray.

And this is my desk reasonably tidy. Not clean or organised, but reasonably tidy.

To the left sits a pile of papers, an odds n' ends shoebox and more incredibly important documents as well as various cables needed to connect various things to my computer and my camera. My specs case is there too, and an unopened packet of drawing pencils. They might explain my unsketched books. I can see my counterpart Driver's License shoved between some untranscribed tasting notes. There's a copy of the lease for my flat underneath. More corks. A disposable camera that's been used but not developed for 5 years.

I cannot imagine what's on there. I'm not sure I want to.

Every time I tidy my desk it's that pile to the left that gets bigger. I tend to just chuck all of it over there.

The detritus on either side, the stuff underneath and the rubbish on top - every once in awhile it gets to me. I sit down to write and find it stunts me. Some people file things for the sake of organisation, for some piece of mind that comes with things being in their proper place, imposing order in a universe that's quite happy with its own order, thank you very much. I need to file things to avoid distraction. Organisation is a luxury, a bonus, but never really a necessity to me. The odd frantic search for a bit of paper doesn't bother me too much. But the odd pointless scrap of bureaucracy can spell disaster. An old tasting note peeking out from under the shoebox will pique my interest and that quickly leads to a wasted 5 minutes, hour, afternoon.

Matter cannot be created, but clutter and endless distractions seem to create, recreate, procreate, duplicate and accumulate without end. Perhaps it's time, finally, after three and a half months, to buy a filing cabinet.

Matter cannot be destroyed.

But it can be hidden.

05 February 2009

lazy flurry

The winds abate and the clouds rise and a gentle flurry of snow drifts with a lazy abandon, often not bothered with gravity's grip. The sea laps instead of rages. The air has that crisp taste to it that comes with stillness. It pinches the inside of your nostrils, but doesn't hurt. The snowflakes move so slowly you can follow one for a good few seconds. I watch from the window, looking up from my notebook and scrawling script.

I've been thinking about India quite a bit of late.

It was a bit more than six months ago now, though it seems closer. Sometimes much closer. That's not a bad thing, really. I'm still writing it up. I don't know why it's taken so long. It's a peculiar project, writing about India. I can't make that move from pen and paper to the laptop. I'm still scribbling in the Moleskin I bought for the trip - a last minute purchase in Terminal 3 at Heathrow (along with some plug adapters and a couple of pens). I've lost the pens. The plug adapters turned out to be the wrong ones (India has two different plug standards - sometimes more) - I only bought them because I worried adapters I bought earlier might be wrong. Both claimed to be standard in 'Parts of India' and both failed to stipulate which parts.

Anyway, I'm still writing about India. I took notes while I was there, but never really got round to updating the journal during the trip. The notes I tapped into my (then) new iPhone or wrote in block caps on journal pages, marked by asterisks to separate them from my attempt at travel narrative. I have trouble with tense on travel narrative - I slip from past to present often, losing track and often shrugging my shoulders and scribbling onwards. Pen and ink make regret pointless; going back is not an option. It's something I can fix when I type it up, I tell myself.

And I tell myself to keep writing, keep remembering. That's why I cannot abandon my India notebook for the clatter of the keyboard. Something about the pen on paper, something about that curious scratching, keeps my memory sharp, keeps the detail from being lost. The banks of the Gomti in Lucknow, the stench of the Ganges, my constant sense of thrilled unease and total displacement all return as the pen pours.

My tense slips into the past. I'm wary of some of my memories, wondering idly if my mind's eye created a touch of filler for the gaps, writing only the details I'm sure of, leaving the odd question mark. Self-doubt in recollection isn't so uncommon - it gets worse as time goes on, as those brilliant days in July fall further back. Insight's worrisome. Often it's hindsight, something garnered on further reflection as the tense continues to slip. Most of my epiphanies on the trip were simple and probably came to many a traveller before me, if not all of them.

So I keep scribbling. I'm in Lucknow at the moment, touring a school along the banks of the river Gomti. The building amazes me. It seems of no continent: simply a testament to grandeur. It was to be a residence, apparently, but the owner died before completion and willed it to be turned into a school. Bamboo scaffolding adorns one of the wings in some attempt at restoration. There's a permeating damp from the river and the threatening, omnipresent monsoon. The morning began in Delhi and now I'm at the La Martiniere. After that we'll head to the famous Residency, landmark to the Mutiny of 1857. The tour guide drones on and does his best to bore the shit out of me. It's only the second day of the trip and there's so much to do.

I breathe deep and look up from the notebook.

I'm sitting at my table in the flat. It's darker out, but the odd flake drifts by, catching the light. It swirls and twirls and bounces about before disappearing on its course. The flat's empty and my tea's cold. It's not masala chai. I lose India and for a moment all the things of now come back to me and my breath shortens.

Another cup of tea and a glance down at the blue ink scrawled between the thin brown lines. I reread my last page or two.

I've lost track of tense again.

04 February 2009


Originally uploaded by rwhbray

Just a wee shot of St Andrews pier in the recent gales. I'm working on a new post as well.

02 February 2009

debates and morning weather updates

There is a small lump of melting snow lying in the bottom right corner of my window. Flurries fly every now and again, but as far as I can tell, that's the only snow that's settled. And it doesn't seem to be settling for long. I find it an outrage that London gets snow and St Andrews, perched on a rock jutting out into the North Sea, 400 miles to the north, gets fuck all.

Ah... nevermind. Since starting the last paragraph a blizzard has appeared, belting hail and snow against my window with an assaulting, though pleasing, rattle. Already the beach is turning white. In the space of 3 minutes. Even the seagulls look a mite unhappy.

There was a point to this post. I was pondering my morning run in the face of yet another north eastern wind. I wake up and every morning the waves loom larger. The howls, whispers and wails from out my window shriek louder.

*weather update* The sun is now trying to break through, the snow/hail has stopped and already the beach is reverting to its desaturated winter tan. It's been about 6 minutes since the blizzard conditions.

The blizzard's started again.

It's mostly hail now. But as soon as I type that, to spite me, it slips back to snow, and the rattle of falling ice is replaced by the hush that snow makes as it falls.

The sun's out, not a flake in the air.

A mist hangs over the beach, rising lazily towards the sun that lifts it. It's barely above freezing and there's a gale blowing. I can't decide if the weather's reached some level of stability, enough for me to go for my run. The sun hides again and the flakes start to fall and I value the comfort of my flat. No one would blame me if I don't go. I've no whip-cracking trainer, no drill sergeant there to demean me should I choose comfort and warmth.

The wind sounds louder than it did 5 minutes ago. And I still haven't decided whether I'm running or not.

01 February 2009

laughing and hovering

The world looked cold today. A monochrome sketch of a pale, glowering sky met by a slate, ravaged sea. All things de-saturated, the frigid air and bitter wind sucked the colour out of everything. The gulls gave smug looks as they hovered on and with the wind, floating without effort and laughing. Gulls seem to feel no cold. They fly and hover because they can. They spread their wings and the air takes them. They mock the people beneath as they huddle, scrunched against the gale, unable and unwilling to let it carry them.

To add insult to injury, sometimes they shit upon those huddled masses.

I'm surprised it doesn't freeze on the way down. Imagine that: death by frozen seagull shit. You don't get much more ignominious than that.

I write about the weather while I think about all manner of other things. It's always convenient when the elements match the tumult in my head. It gives the illusion of sympathy in nature. If it had been sunny and harmonious today, I may have been grumpier and certainly more resentful. As it was, I found a certain amount of solace in seeing the maelstrom of my thoughts and feelings mirrored by the climatic antics outside.

I could utter all manner of platitudes and metaphors about what ails my head and heart at the moment. It would do me little good. They are not problems unique to me, nor have they been inflicted on me by some nefarious malefactor. For the most part, they're the realities of life, in many cases self-inflicted. Love, loss, passion, purpose and that desperate longing for a pause button.

I looked and I watched the breakers crash, trying to see some manner of symmetry in the waves. It was clear, vivid; I found clarity, if not symmetry.

What I didn't find was answers. More and more I find answers a pointless pursuit, so in that sense it was a bit of a relief. People looking for answers frequently forget the questions. I'll take clarity and good questions over answers any day, even a cold one with a bitter wind-chill, raging seas and gloating gulls.

26 January 2009

ice crystals on pavement

It's too cold to run right now. The sun shines bright on the frost-crusted pavement and I doubt the grip of my feet upon the earth. Silhouettes walk their dogs on the beach, bundled tight. Every silhouette has their personal cloud of mist that trails them like steam on a locomotive. I can imagine the crunch of frozen grass as one of those silhouettes takes their wee Scotty dog along the lawn that runs behind the beach for a couple of hundred yards. The lawn used to be a putting green, though I can't remember if it was 9 or 18 holes. I never used it myself. I tend to use the Himalayas, adorning St Andrews' more famous beach, and most famous golf course. It's about as close to golfing as I intend to get.

Some people are golf people and define themselves as such. It permeates their conversation with other golf people and frequently spills over, inflicting itself upon the silent and weary who don't and never will give a shit about golf. I'm one of those people. Living for so long in a town synonymous with golf has lead me to define myself - to some extent - as not a golf person. This troubles me somewhat, as defining oneself as what they are not seems negative, and vaguely smacks of scientific method. Still, I find it necessary when my own countrymen, visiting to pay homage to this most ancient and adored bastion of golf, stare at me aghast while I explain to them that I don't play their precious game.

It's too cold to play golf anyway. Or even have a leisurely stroll along the putting green. My window has a new frame, an edge of sparkling frost that the heat from my room has as yet been unable to melt. Inside this cocoon of warmth I've meandered through iTunes, putting together a morning playlist: a long overdue endeavour. There are many songs perfect to wake up to though the fuzziness of morning means that often I just hit any old shit. Playlists like this are made on mornings like this. The sunshine cannot but wake you, entice you outside. But the bitter cold halts you in your tracks. Awake and ready but trapped. The playlist is ecclectic, odd even. AC/DC and Nina Simone, Beastie Boys and The Beatles. I'm liking it so far though. Liking the jump from 60's soul to 80's rock to 90's punk rap and back to pop again. I air guitar and sing along while my fingers bang the keys. I'm still in my pj's.

The temperature's risen from -3 to -1. That's celcius. I switch back and forth between celcius and farenheit. When it's cold I feel celcius is more descriptive. 0 is freezing. It's apt. In the summer, however, it falls short. Farenheit must be called on to provide a scale for the warmth. It's hard to think of it as warm when celcius claims it's only 25.

There are more silhouettes wandering the beach now, some with dogs and some without. The frost covers the beach as well, the sand more silver than gold. The lobster boats are all out, checking their traps no doubt. The thought makes me hungry. Munching fresh lobster while looking out over a sun-drenched frozen beach, sipping white burgundy and enjoying the banter of friends.

Most of the lobsters go to Spain, which is of use to no one, except perhaps the Spanish. So I munch on their manchego, pata negra and chorizo while they crunch our crustaceans. It still doesn't seem quite a fair trade, but maybe that's just me wanting something for nothing.

The frost doesn't seem to be melting, in spite of the sun's best efforts. My ecclectic new playlist just pumped out James Brown, Van Halen and Pulp. My mouth's watering but I don't want to eat just yet. The silhouettes seem to prefer the far end of the beach to the near.

It's too cold for a run, but I'll go anyway.

02 January 2009


I have a hangover and need to go to work in a couple of hours. Ugh. Will post properly soon.

By the way, if I had a choice, I would only drink port from 1927. Wow that was fine.